Passover: A reminder of hard-won freedoms

Fri, 04/26/2019 - 6:00am

Passover ends on Saturday evening, April 27.

Passover 2019 arrives this year just as the daffodils and forsythia burst into bloom and for many of us after a long collective winter of discontent.

The ancient holiday observed by Jews across the globe began this year at sundown on April 19, reminding us as it always does of the intense nature of the human struggle for freedom.

As the story unfolds through the pages of the “Haggadah” — the small book we read during the first nights of the holiday — we relive the bondage and oppression of the Israelites at the hands of the Egyptian Pharoah. We recall the pain and suffering of our forbears who were targeted as other, as less valued, as objects of a deep abiding bigotry that blotted out their humanity.

We partake in rituals that mark the human struggle to be independent, to be free. We eat matzoh because when our ancestors fled Egypt and their oppressors, the bread they baked in haste had no time to rise.

We eat maror (bitter herbs) to recall the bitterness of enslavement. We are asked to think of their exodus as ours, “as though we were there with them” — to reenact metaphorically their struggle and their flight.

History has unfortunately recorded too many periods in which bigotry was given free reign around the world. The Holocaust — in the midst of the 20th century — illustrates the extremes of endemic Jew-hatred that defy imagination: oppression and enslavement directed at Jews simply because they were Jews.

Though in the United States our democratic principles guarantee that we are equally protected under our laws, we seem to have lost count of how many times hatred has restricted the lives of or driven attacks against people of color.

African Americans were enslaved in this land for centuries — and as we have seen within our lifetimes — repeatedly attacked for their skin color — often within their places of worship.

Recent public rhetoric has seemed to roil up an underlying bigotry and hatred in many of our communities by many of our countrymen. The targets have often been Muslims and asylum-seekers.

When our leaders promote equivalencies between protesters of hate-filled acts and those perpetrating them and when we are publicly enjoined to turn our hearts against asylum seekers characterized as less than human, it seems we must seriously question what has happened to those very principles we have so long glorified as reflecting the uniqueness of our Democracy.

The national call against immigrants has been connected to an act in October of 2018, in which Jewish worshippers in a synagogue called The Tree of Life were targeted in an assault that has been characterized as “the deadliest attack on Jews in the United States.” In his own words, listening to this call, the killer was irate and acting out against Jews standing up for peoples seeking asylum.

While we recognize that there are forces very much abroad in our world today that continue to pose dangers to human dignity and freedom, in reenacting the exodus from the slavery of our ancestors, we recognized our ability to act in courage and solidarity — to survive.

In so doing, Passover also comes as a celebration of the indomitable persistence in all of us that yearns and struggles for freedom and in the end joins us in our common humanity.